Pakistan: Sharif’s Pyrrhic victory

Most of the elitist actors at the helm of the political edifice personify the social, moral, ethical, and cultural decay through which the country is passing presently

In an election devoid of any real ideological debates, the much-flaunted victory by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has nothing to ameliorate the sufferings of the impoverished masses. Sharif represents the national, i.e. ruling class interests and campaigned with a chauvinist rhetoric. In a situation whereby the political consciousness of the working classes had suffered a setback, such an outcome is not surprising.

Most of the elitist actors at the helm of the political edifice personify the social, moral, ethical, and cultural decay through which the country is passing presently. The victory of Sharif reminds one of the comments made by Karl Marx after the spectacular victory of Louis Napoleon in the presidential elections of December 1848 in France. Marx wrote at the time: “Why had the French voted, in such overwhelming numbers, for this preposterous deadbeat — clumsily cunning, knavishly naïve, doltishly sublime, a calculated superstition, a pathetic burlesque, a cleverly stupid anachronism, a world historic piece of buffoonery and an undecipherable hieroglyphic? Simple: the very blankness of this junior Bonaparte allowed all classes and types to reinvent him in their own image...Thus it happened that the most simple minded man in France acquired the most complex significance: ‘Just because he was nothing, he could signify everything.’”

The Sharifs entered the political arena under the patronage of the Zia dictatorship. Their immediate benefactor was General Jilani, the martial law administrator and governor of Punjab. General Ziaul Haq was generous to the Sharifs. Their (in)famous Ittefaq Foundry, nationalised by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the early 1970s, was handed back for peanuts. There are harrowing tales of brutalities inflicted upon the workers when the Ittefaq was owned by the Sharifs before it was nationalised. Groomed by the dictatorship, Nawaz Sharif made a meteoric rise to the dizzy heights in the hierarchy of the dictatorship. As he was reaching new heights, the working class activists of the left and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were being subjected to horrible atrocities by the Zia dictatorship.

Ever since the Sharifs have also become lieutenants of the reactionary Saudi monarchy. They are also part of the nexus between finance capital, drug barons, sections of the religious right, organs of the deep state and the political protégés of the ruling classes.

A society often goes through sudden changes and sharp turns. The demise of General Zia in a C-130 plane crash in 1988 heralded a new period with the working masses yearning for a new dawn. However, Benazir Bhutto turned her back on the PPP’s socialist tradition. Instead she looked towards US imperialism and embarked upon Thatcherite neo-liberal economic policies, rolling back Bhutto’s nationalisation thrust. She initiated the privatisation process. These pro-capitalist policies resulted in the disillusionment of the masses and enabled the Sharifs to gain politically. They returned to power with a vengeance against the working masses. Sharif became the champion of right-wing politics. His accession to power as prime minister for the third time is in large part due to further political and ideological betrayal and deterioration of the PPP leadership.

Turnout and elections results were managed by the deep state like in previous cases favouring the PML-N, allocating far more seats than they even envisaged. As Maryam Nawaz commented, “It is beyond our expectations.” Six independently elected National Assembly members from the tribal areas were made to join Sharif’s party. The election of a Marxist contesting as an independent from NA-41 Wana, South Waziristan, Ali Wazir, was conveniently stolen by a margin of a mere 300 votes. The agencies were fully aware that Ali could neither be bought, nor coaxed or terrified to join this right-wing government. The PML-N candidate was declared officially the winner. But that is a bad omen for the state itself as Wazir aroused the youth of this hinterland with most advanced revolutionary ideas and has gained a mass base in the region. The raging inferno amongst these youth striving in such atrocious conditions can be well imagined.

But despite the backing of imperialist media, the state, Chinese corporate elite, Saudi Arabian and Gulf monarchs, this right-wing government will not be stable or able to solve any of the burning issues afflicting society. The so-called peaceful transition will become turbulent and furious in the weeks and months ahead. In the past, as the crisis exacerbated, there were conflicts between Sharif and sections of the state that led to the dismissals of his governments. Currently, imperialist aggressors and the fundamentalist terrorists are involved in a bloody mayhem that is tearing apart the social fabric of Pakistan. Sharif’s slogan to negotiate with the Taliban is mere rhetoric. There is no united leadership or representation of these fundamentalist outfits, splintered into innumerable groups and indulging in endless feuds to gain a bigger chunk of the black money. Sharif evades the question of drone strikes, as he is well aware of his limitations and impotence in this matter.

Sharif’s experts do not have a clue how to salvage the crumbling economy. The illusion of overcoming a massive deficit and preventing an economic meltdown with Saudi oil subsidies or Chinese aid is a fallacy. Sharif’s main focus is on macroeconomic stability. His policies of aggressive privatisation, restructuring, and deregulation will exasperate redundancies, cuts in social spending and price hikes devastating the already impoverished masses. The informal or the black economy cannot be brought into the tax net. If he tries to take measures such as increased taxation, etc, against sections of his own corrupt class, there will be a brisk flight of capital and assets, further bludgeoning the decaying economy.

On the question of improving the toxic relations with India, Sharif is well aware of the economic interests of the military top brass, the imperialist military-industrial complex, reluctant diplomats, and shadowy lobbies fostering this conflict. At most, both sides will manage to announce some cosmetic measures while the fundamental reality of Indo-Pak relations will remain unchanged. The two countries can neither afford a full-fledged war nor can they sustain a durable peace. Since both Manmohan Singh and Sharif represent the capitalist class, they will try to maximise their profits by expanding trade, etc. But this will fail to boost the dwindling economic growth in the two countries. However, no major initiatives are likely until the 2014 general elections in India. Pakistani capitalism in a rotten state will further pauperise the already deprived masses. In the scenario of a right-wing government launching severe attacks on the working classes, this can provoke an upheaval that can become the death knell for the rule of the capitalist system and the classes that Sharif represents.